RIO GRANDE DO NORTE, Brazil — Brazilian police have arrested an American child rapist who claimed to be “Christ in the flesh” after he was discovered living as a fugitive in the country.
Victor Barnard, 53, was taken into custody on Friday at a home in Rio Grande Do Norte, where he had been staying in a gated community. The leader of Minnesota’s River Road Fellowship has been on the run from police for the past three years after officials began investigating sexual abuse allegations against young girls.
Barnard is facing 59 counts of sexual assault, stemming from a complaint filed with police that he had repeatedly abused two girls in his congregation over a period of almost ten years.
The cult leader had claimed to be the Messiah, and reportedly used this claim to justify having sexual relations with his followers. One of the girls who says that she was abused by Barnard, Lindsay Tornambe, provided further details to police after leaving his congregation at age 22. She said that she had been raped by the leader since she was 13.
“Barnard repeatedly preached to her that he represented Christ in the flesh, that Jesus Christ had Mary Magdalene and other women who followed him, that King Solomon slept with many concubines, that the firstborn child was to be sacrificed to God, and that it was normal for Barnard to have sex with her because it was in God’s Word,” a police complaint reads.
A second girl who came forward, who has not yet been identified, likewise told police that Barnard had claimed that it was okay for him to have sex with her because “he was a man of God and she would remain a virgin because of it.” She said that he also “quoted parts of Scripture, saying it gave him the authority to do this because he was Christ in the flesh.” The girl left the group in 2009 at age 20 after allegedly being abused since she was 12 years old.
Both victims had lived in Barnard’s “Shepherd’s Camp” that he had setup in the mid-1990s. But it wasn’t until 2000 that the cult leader began convincing parents within his congregation to allow their firstborn daughters to live with him. These girls, known as “the maidens,” served Barnard in the form of cooking and cleaning, but Tornambe and others state that it went much further than that.
However, while the youth were told to keep their physical relationship with Barnard a secret, the congregation began to split in 2011 over revelations that Barnard was having inappropriate relations with the adult women as well.
“There had been a division in the group that caused many to separate because Barnard had admitted to having sexual relations with multiple married woman in the group,” a report states.
Barnard then moved to Washington state and soon came under scrutiny. His home was visited by police in 2012, but he had already fled, and in the spring of last year, official child abuse charges were filed against the false Christ. Barnard was soon placed on the U.S. Marshall’s Most Wanted List.
On Friday, Barnard was discovered living in Brazil and was transported to a jail in Natal as he waits extradition back to the United States. He faces counts of both sexual assault and unlawful flight.